Davis Cup: Israel Looks to Keep the Dream Alive Against Spain

Rob YorkSenior Writer ISeptember 17, 2009

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 5:  Dudi Sela of Israel returns a shot against Lleyton Hewitt of Australia during Day 3 of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center August 5, 2009 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

With the Davis Cup semifinals taking place this weekend, a few of us Bleacher Creatures will preview the path each team has taken to get this far, and examine their chances of advancing to the finals.

For Clarabella Bevis' take on Croatia, click here

For Rajat Jain on the Czech Republic, click here.

For antiMatter on Spain, click here.

Israel’s Davis Cup team makes its first-ever appearance in the DC semifinals this weekend, as they face defending champions Spain in the Spanish city of Murcia.

Though they will be distinct underdogs on clay, there’s no doubting that the Israeli team has come a long way: In 2008, they had to defeat Sweden and Peru in the World Group playoff system just for the right to compete in the main draw this year.

News has followed this team from round one, when they played away against the Swedish team in Malmo.

That tie retains its infamy for the decision by Sweden’s tennis federation to have the matches played before no crowds; a security measure enacted due to the fear of Swedish protests against Israel’s Gaza offensive this past winter.

The lack of hometown support may have been a killer for the Swedes, though, as Israel's Dudi Sela defeated Andreas Vinciguerra and 2002 Australian Open champ Thomas Johansson, both in five sets. The Israelis won 3-2, advancing to face Russia at home.

Compounding Sweden’s misery, the ITF fined them $25,000 for barring fan attendance and banned Malmo from hosting future ties.

Despite the tie taking place in Tel Aviv, the Russians, including Marat Safin, Mikhail Youzhny and Igor Andreev, were the heavy favorites on paper. Safin went so far as to say that Israel was “lucky” to be in round two.

In response, 30-year-old Harel Levy (who reached a career-high ranking of No. 30 in 2001 but was ranked No. 210 at the time) vanquished No. 24 Andreev in four sets. Sela followed with a four-set win over Youzhny the same day.

When Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram won the doubles match the next day against Safin and Igor Kunitsyn, the tie was clinched. Israeli captain Eyal Ran likened Levy and Sela to twin F-16s, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the team had filled all of Israel with pride.

A great accomplishment it was, but it would be forgotten were the Israelis somehow able to sink the Spanish Armada. In addition to winning last year’s Cup, Spain has won its last 16 home ties, its last 18 on clay, and has lost only one rubber in its three previous meetings with the Israel.

Again, Israel will be led by Sela (now ranked No. 29) and Levy (ranked No. 140), with Erlich and Ram playing doubles.

Spain will be without its injured superstars, No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 9 Fernando Verdasco; in their place will be Tommy Robredo (No. 16), former Roland Garros champ Juan Carlos Ferrero (No. 21), the gritty David Ferrer (No. 19) and flashy Feliciano Lopez (No. 34).

However, Ferrer and Robredo have indicated that Spain will not underestimate Israel as Russia did, pointing out that Sela is 1-1 against Ferrer and 3-0 against Robredo. None of Sela's previous matches with those two took place on clay, though.

Israel’s only real chance is for Sela to win two matches, with Erlich and Ram adding the doubles point. That seems unlikely, though, against a Spanish squad that not only has a surface and hometown fan advantage, but has a lot more experience with Davis Cup pressure.

Look for Israel to win a rubber, but no more: Spain wins 4-1.